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So Over You by Kate Meader

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 17th October 2017
So Over You by Kate MeaderSo Over You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels #2
Published by Pocket Books on December 19th 2017
Pages: 400
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two-stars

Isobel Chase knows hockey. She played NCAA, won silver at the Games, and made it thirty-seven minutes into the new National Women’s Hockey League before an injury sidelined her dreams. Those who can’t, coach, and a position as a skating consultant to her late father’s hockey franchise, the Chicago Rebels, seems like a perfect fit. Until she’s assigned her first job: the man who skated into her heart as a teen and relieved her of her pesky virginity. These days, left-winger Vadim Petrov is known as the Czar of Pleasure, a magnet for puck bunnies and the tabloids alike. But back then... let’s just say his inability to sink the puck left Isobel frustratingly scoreless.

Vadim has a first name that means “ruler,” and it doesn’t stop at his birth certificate. He dominates on the ice, the practice rink, and in the backseat of a limo. But a knee injury has produced a bad year, and bad years in the NHL don’t go unrewarded. His penance? To be traded to a troubled team where his personal coach is Isobel Chase, the woman who drove him wild years ago when they were hormonal teens. But apparently the feeling was not entirely mutual.

That Vadim might have failed to give Isobel the pleasure that was her right is intolerable, and he plans to make it up to her—one bone-melting orgasm at a time. After all, no player can perfect his game without a helluva lot of practice...

Hockey isn’t a game I follow at all, but the premise of Kate Meader’s series is easy enough to understand. Three estranged sisters—broken in their own way by a father who still wreaks destruction from beyond the grave—, a switch in management of a hockey team and the struggle to stay afloat with a change this momentous. For those who don’t understand the game, then the details or lack thereof are sparse enough that you can focus on the drama surrounding the couple and the management team in question.

‘So Over You’ is Isobel’s story and a Russian player who’s as ‘Russian’ as they come (that however, depends on your perspective), though it was for me sadly, more of a surprising miss than a hit as the first book. Quite a bit of the story made a mountain of a molehill of Isobel not getting an orgasm when Vadim took her virginity (or in a more cringeworthy way of putting it—‘making her a woman’) close to a decade ago and how Vadim obsessed increasingly over this salient point because he wanted to prove otherwise now.

In this book, that’s not just a backstory; it’s in fact, like a niggling ghost of Christmas past that wouldn’t go away because both parties remembered it in different ways, not to mention the aftermath that was significant enough that this had become a point of contention with the both of them.

To be fair, the dour sex they had as teenagers wasn’t all that the story revolved around, though the little sub-plots in between did little to distract me from watching out for the next pairing (Cade! Dante!) in the sequel, which was a clear indicator of how difficult I found it to be invested in Isobel and Vadim. On the one hand, I could understand Isobel’s need to define herself apart from hockey, or simply as a WAG of yet another famous player in the league when her own career fell to pieces.

Yet it was hard to sympathise with that self-same selfish ambition that ran over people in the process; neither could I accept her interfering with Vadim’s relationship with his mother as she projected her own daddy-issues onto his markedly different parental situation. Vadim, on the other hand, apart from his awful heavy-handed ways, sometimes leaned towards becoming a caricature—broody, with speech patterns of a non-English speaker that’s either archaic or with mixed metaphors meant to be amusing somehow—or at least a character that seemed to conform to the stereotypes of how some parts of the world view Russians these days.

I’m just going to put this particular book down as an aberration in a series that I do like quite much. There’s still so much going for it: Meader’s writing, for one, but the tease for Cade and Dante is enough to keep me watching out for the next book that can’t come soon enough.

two-stars

Mend Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Reviews/ Sports 20th September 2017
Mend Your Heart by Tracey AlvarezMend Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez
Series: Bounty Bay #4
Published by Tracey Alvarez on September 15th 2017
Pages: 247
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five-stars

An idiot’s guide to falling for your best friend’s widow…

Former rugby star Isaac Ngata was New Zealand’s golden boy until five years ago when a tragic accident took the life of his friend and team mate. Now he’s a pariah with a screwed up knee and a burden of guilt toward his friend’s wife and daughter. Best thing for him to do is sink into the anonymous safety of his hometown. An even better thing to do would be to stop picturing Natalie in his arms.

For someone who doesn’t know a dummy pass from a drop kick, Natalie Fisher just wants to keep her late husband’s passion for sport in the past. But their teenage daughter’s rugby team is in desperate need of a coach and the man she can’t stand to be around has volunteered. A long buried attraction flares to life between Natalie and Isaac, one they can’t run far or fast enough to avoid. Soon rugby fever isn’t the only thing heating up Bounty Bay. Crossing the line never had such high stakes…

I’ve somehow always hesitated to jump into Tracey Alvarez’s Far North/Bounty Bay series, but this is probably because I’m so attached to her Down South crew that I’m probably as possessive of them as Alvarez is. But ‘Mend Your Heart’s blurb sounded heartbreaking from the start and I knew immediately that I wanted Isaac Ngata’s story desperately as much as I wanted my next Down South fix.

The family-like bonds in every series is probably Tracey Alvarez’s forte, as secondary characters float in and out of the whole book while propping the whole narrative as well as the protagonists up with a sly yet subtle kind of humour I’d be hard-pressed to find outside of Australia and New Zealand. Alvarez’s writing is definitely no slouch either, though it can take some getting used to her style, as well as the references to a sport that can be rather obscure for those who live on the other side of of the Pacific ocean. But rugby is everything in Kiwi-land and I love Alvarez’s deliberate spotlight on the All Blacks who aren’t, despite popular opinion, the only famous thing about this place.

But I digress.

Back to the plot as we know it: Isaac’s professional career and reputation went up in flames 5 years ago in an incident that destroyed any kind of relationship between his (now dead) best mate’s wife and daughter, and that’s just the beginning of what we know. It unravels slowly from here onwards, with bits and pieces that come along with the truth that you know is contrary to what Isaac (and popular opinion) has claimed. Natalie and Olivia are in essence, too close and yet too far for this guy to find his HEA, though it’s clear that it’s high time for him to.

Isaac himself jumped out from the pages and became an immediate hero-to-die-for when it became clear what he did to protect people he owed nothing to. The grumpy facade, that shell he’d retreated into and the emotions he didn’t quite try to hide and run away from like almost every alpha book hero I know, made him a shining beacon among the thorny arses in romantic fiction. I loved every moment of his interaction with Natalie, Olivia as well as the all-girls school rugby team, just as much as I cheered for their HEA with their nosy but well-meaning mates in the background. For a few hours, I’d been happily part of their whanau and needless to say, I’d gladly leap back in when Vee’s and Sam’s story comes out of the works.

five-stars

Rebel by Rebecca Yarros

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 21st August 2017
Rebel by Rebecca YarrosRebel by Rebecca Yarros
Series: The Renegades #3
Published by Entangled: Embrace on August 28th 2017
Pages: 265
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four-stars

She'll defy his every expectation.

She’s Penna Carstairs. The Renegade they call Rebel. FMX-treme Magazine’s sexiest female athlete of the year.There’s no rule in extreme sports she hasn’t broken,No gender barrier she hasn’t demolished.

She’s the woman I met in a bar in Vegas.The woman I illegally BASE jumped for.The woman I spent one insane, incredible night with.But now I’m screwed.Or rather…not screwed.

Because the woman I can’t get out of my head is the one woman I can never touch again.I’m Dr. Cruz Delgado—the youngest professor on this campus. And Penelope Carstairs just walked into my class.

‘Rebel’ is Rebecca Yarros’s last book in her ‘Renegades’ series and it is quite a send-off for this group of daredevils accountable to no one…until Cruz Delgado comes onto the scene and messes it up, taking Penna Carstairs down with a bang while he’s at it.

For which I’m glad, to be honest.

Extreme sports aren’t exactly my thing and I’ll be the first to admit the Renegades hadn’t quite won me over with their deeds, which they do without caring too much about the consequences. But with Penna’s story, there’s some kind of redemption when the characters finally start to realise that there can be consequences too difficult to face with every action. Aside from the forbidden teacher-student relationship that Cruz and Penna had going, ‘Rebel’ has been by far, the best read of all in the series because Yarros also moves slightly away from the Renegades’ documentary making to writing about a daring rescue in Havana which ups the thrills and spills.

Penna—the only female extreme athlete among the thorns—shines so brightly it can get painful just to look at her. On paper, there’s everything going for her as she matches the boys step for step, ride for ride. But I liked the human side of her that emerges when she starts doubting herself after an accident caused by her sister and the loss of confidence that made her reckless in wanting to get back her mojo.

It’s only Cruz—the hot, older professor and Army vet—who gets Penna, matches her and outshines even the Renegades; in fact, I felt Cruz helped shape ‘Rebel’ for me and made it unforgettable. His grounding presence changes the entire dynamics of the story, bringing the sense of accountability that I appreciated, as well as a balanced voice of reason amongst the frat-boy, belligerent and petulant behaviour driven mostly by egos which left me sorely frustrated in the first 2 books. I loved how he looked these boys in the eye and held their actions up to scrutiny, essentially, taking care of the immature moments that frustrated me. He is the first to behave like the mature adult, making Pax and Landon seem like boys who didn’t really grow up in comparison, seeing through to Penna straightaway as she uses adrenaline highs in stunt after stunt to dull her mental state of mind.

My adulation of Cruz aside, the storyline does get gripping towards the end—the politics that Cruz got himself involved in gripped me more than the actual Renegades stunts—and I did ride the whole wave rather anxiously without stopping until I hit the deliriously happy epilogue though it came bittersweet. The epic adventures aside, seeing Penna/Cruz fight for each other simply made me one happy camper.

four-stars

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 20th August 2017
The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana ZapataThe Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on February 28th 2016
Pages: 403
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four-stars

Vanessa Mazur knows she's doing the right thing. She shouldn't feel bad for quitting. Being an assistant/housekeeper/fairy godmother to the top defensive end in the National Football Organization was always supposed to be temporary. She has plans and none of them include washing extra-large underwear longer than necessary.

But when Aiden Graves shows up at her door wanting her to come back, she's beyond shocked.

For two years, the man known as The Wall of Winnipeg couldn't find it in him to tell her good morning or congratulate her on her birthday. Now? He's asking for the unthinkable.

What do you say to the man who is used to getting everything he wants?

I survived another Mariana Zapata book and am damned proud of it. The length of her stories are daunting, make no mistake, and to go through all near-500 pages of a wry, sometimes-neurotic, sometimes-hilarious female voice telling only her side of the story can and does take patience, though the experience isn’t necessarily a dull and colourless one. I do always think twice before embarking on a Zapata story however and length does play a significant role in this decision.

But honestly, I’m not too sure if this book could be shorter though and functioned just as well. The aloof, impersonal start of Van and Aiden and the gradual transformation of their relationship—years!—from trying-to-please PA to a begging Aiden (with a marriage of convenience thrown in after Van quits) rightly needed a slow burn and Zapata’s style of writing certainly suits this kind of plot line.

Instalove? Not in Zapata’s vocabulary. That bit is gratifying, particularly since there are too many gooseflesh-raising stories trying to sell the unbelievable with alpha, dirty-talking men falling hard inexplicably for a woman and want nothing but to ‘claim’ and ‘breed’ her.

In this case, (real) time is as always, Zapata’s solution to the answer for a relationship to turn, with gaps so painstakingly filled in, sometimes mundane, everyday scenes appear as though they’re randomly inserted that there’s no need for the byline ‘x number of years later’. That much I can appreciate, because the result is a multifaceted and real character (at least for Vanessa) that comes through the pages, though the single POV makes Aiden still somewhat of a closed-off ‘hero’ when all I can extrapolate of his brick-ish, stony personality is what Vanessa and other secondary characters say of him. Aiden/Van’s HEA is as well, unequivocally ironclad and that’s also a kudos to Zapata’s careful development of their relationship.

I’m not exactly an apologist for the excruciatingly long, slow burn, despite my defence of the justifiable length of ’The Wall of Winnipeg and Me’. I found myself absorbed for most part without my interest really slipping and for most part, it was so easy to like the characters in this book that it certainly wasn’t a pain to go on and on before the bed finally called to me.

It isn’t to say I wouldn’t take a deep breath before plunging into another Zapata book, because I will. I still look at the books by her that I’ve not yet read (there’s just one more that I want to tackle) and I still think that I don’t have the courage yet to take it on. But having just been brought on a satisfying journey with Van and Aiden, that day might be sooner rather than later.

four-stars

Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports 18th August 2017
Illegal Contact by Santino HassellIllegal Contact by Santino Hassell
Series: The Barons #1
Published by Penguin Publishing Group / InterMix on August 15th 2017
Pages: 259
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three-stars

The rules of the game don’t apply off the field in this first Barons novel. 

New York Barons tight end Gavin Brawley is suspended from the team and on house arrest after a video of him brawling goes viral. Gavin already has a reputation as a jerk with a temper on and off the field—which doesn’t help him once he finds himself on the wrong side of the law. And while he’s been successful professionally, he’s never been lucky when it comes to love.

Noah Monroe is a recent college grad looking for a job—any job—to pay off his mounting student debt. Working as Gavin’s personal assistant/babysitter seems like easy money. But Noah isn’t prepared for the electrifying tension between him and the football player. He’s not sure if he’d rather argue with Gavin or tackle him to the floor. But both men know the score, and neither is sure what will happen once Gavin's timeout is over…

Meet Gavin Brawley: Crude, abrasive, loyal, muscled, misunderstood and a closeted bisexual football player who cares naught about what people say about him. Now meet his other half who doesn’t know it yet: Noah Monroe, the broke, snarky and soft LGBT social worker turned personal assistant who’s quite the opposite of Gavin and knows next to nothing about football.

An application for a PA position for Gavin puts Noah in Gavin’s path and the easy money that being a PA offers makes Noah grit his teeth in the first few weeks. But the hostile antagonism shifts with snarky banter holding the base line throughout until Gavin and Noah find themselves brooding about the fact that lines and boundaries have crossed into the personal zone.

I do like Santino Hassell’s take on bi- and homosexuality in the world of competitive sports, and I’ll have to say that it’s written so differently from what I’m used to. But that’s not a bad thing at all. The male-male conversations and the deconstruction of men’s emotions, written by a male author about other men, were like a gold mine of insight into the opposite gender’s mind and well, my catnip. Gavin/Noah’s attraction and chemistry spark off the pages and with a cast of amusing secondary characters that already make me want their stories, ‘Illegal Contact’ proved to be quite a read with a kind of raw realness that I loved.

three-stars

Changing the Play by Julia Blake

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews/ Sports 13th August 2017
Changing the Play by Julia BlakeChanging the Play by Julia Blake
Series: The Game Changer #1
Published by Pocket Star on August 21st 2017
Pages: 339
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three-stars

Rachel Pollard has never been a push-over. That’s why she’s a superstar in the world of sports management, making a name for herself with a shrewd eye for overlooked talent. She certainly isn’t taking any chances with her latest NFL draft prospect, Kevin Loder, who’s poised to shake up the league. But when Nick Ruben, a tenacious sports reporter who also happens to be the crush who ignored her all through high school, picks up the scent of a long-buried story, Rachel suddenly finds herself playing defense for the first time in years.

Nick usually doesn’t strike out with women, but his always-dependable charm isn’t getting him anywhere with Rachel or the interview he needs to save his job from his network’s impending layoffs. He knows he’s pressing hard, but she’s pushing back just as much—it’d almost be fun if his career wasn’t on the line. But after weeks of begging and finally striking a deal for an exclusive, Nick is surprised to realize he wants their relationship to be anything but professional. Now he has to figure out a way to save his job without hurting hers, and to make the girl he overlooked in high school believe he’s worth a shot at love.

Julia Blake is a new author for me, but ‘Changing the Play’ ensures I’ll be coming back for more. The book captures the mad, competitive world of sports management and journalism perfectly, with such sharp, insightful writing that I knew that it was going to be a read I wouldn’t be able to forget. I loved the frenetic rush, the constant flurry of activity of the whole sports scene that was detailed and wholly engrossing—even though it isn’t quite my thing—as well as the conflict that was so very real when Rachel and Nick clashed.

Most of all though, Blake has written such a memorable heroine for whom I found myself cheering the whole way. There was everything to love about Rachel—her tenacity, her compassion for the players she managed and how she was able to call Nick out on the bullshit he piled on her as well as the strength that it took to say no to his charm offensive that was in many ways, professionally and personally insulting. I liked her protective instincts towards her players even when they’re idiots and her actions with Kevin made her a character who really deserved better than Nick who had everything to prove but didn’t.

In contrast, I was way less impressed by Nick as the selfish, entitled playboy journalist, who had really only sought Rachel out for his own purposes rather than wanting to do so because he wanted only her with no strings. Not only that made him hard to like, but I didn’t feel as though he wanted to date Rachel for herself—that seemed to come incidentally as his job had always been his first priority—even though he brought up the sob story of being an idiot in high school who never asked her out anyway. Somehow his actions and rationale(s) never stopped being questionable the whole time and those were pretty much the major blimps that prevented ‘Changing the Play’ from becoming an exceptional story for me.

three-stars

Hello Forever by Sarina Bowen

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Sports/ Young Adult 29th July 2017
Hello Forever by Sarina BowenHello Forever by Sarina Bowen
Series: Pay It Forward #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on July 14th 2017
Pages: 213
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four-stars

When they were only teenagers, Axel and Caxton were caught making out in the woods at church camp. And afterward, Cax had disappeared from all the youth group activities.

Six years later, Axel is astonished to spot his first love’s face in the crowd of a college basketball game he’s watching on TV—at a school which has just offered him a job. It’s a thousand miles away, in a tiny rural town. But suddenly, he can’t wait to get there.

Cax can’t believe his eyes when Axel appears in the same Massachusetts town where he now lives. And he’s still just as drawn to Axel as ever. But he can’t let himself go there again, because loving Axel will mean giving up everything else he holds dear.

Both men have so much to lose. But as far as their love is concerned, it's Hello Forever.

Sarina Bowen’s ‘Hello Forever’ is a memorable read and I’m starting to think that she’s got a particular talent for M/M stories even if a few of her other M/F romances have ranked as a few of my favourites.

In ‘Hello Forever’ Axel and Cax have their own journey to undertake here in what feels like a spinoff from the first book in the series, though it’s perfect as standalone. Bowen’s storytelling shines especially when it comes to her ability to forge intimate and sweet connections between her characters regardless of sexual orientation, and I found myself enjoying Axel/Cax’s second chance story a lot more than I usually do for this trope because it didn’t have the usual hysterics TSTL bits in which some characters ‘break character’ for the sake of creating conflict.

Yet ‘Hello Forever’ is also very much a book about young people taking responsibility and stepping up when their own parents fail them—almost as if it’s a defiant flip of the bird at the media wailing about rootless, millennial ingrates. Bowen sets up Axel and Cax as very relatable characters that struggle with their careers, adulthood and the heavy burden of caring for family, not least to mention their sexuality. The slight bit of angst does help drive the story forward, though mostly, it’s an easy read without the extreme highs and lows that allow you root wholeheartedly for yet another couple to get their HEA.

four-stars
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